Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1035
I saw her, for the first and only time, on a rainy November afternoon in 1962. We both boarded the Fifth Avenue bus, going downtown, at Forty-second Street. We both found seats at the back of the bus, and she sat across the aisle from me.
She wore glasses, had straight, long, mousey brown hair, an armful of books, an alpaca-lined raincoat, and a sad, small face. She was ugly and she knew it.
I imagined that she was the only child of an intellectual couple no longer married to each other. Her mother had a full-time job and would not be home until six. At least two evenings a week the mother took courses toward her master's, maybe once a week she went out with a man. Her father was a writer addicted to collecting, and adding to, obscure reference books. When she was little, before her parents were divorced, she was the center of their world. Now she was very much alone. Her intelligence made her a displaced person. It isolated her from other children and, even more, from adults…. Among her schoolbooks were two library books with their spines away from me, but with the stamp of the New York Public Library system on the accordion of pages. They were too thick to be children's books. (p. 142)
I stared at the girl until she looked at me, wrinkled her nose, and turned her head away. With that visual dismissal I suddenly knew that what I really wanted to do with my life was to write the kind of books she would like. Not adult books, which she read even now, but books for her—for her age, for her needs, for her intelligence.
This special girl, unlike the others, would not grow older. For me she would always be twelve, her mind fifteen. She would never be part of my world, and I would never be part of hers. The only thing that I could hope for was to build a bridge for her, a bridge of books. Not from her world into mine, but from her childhood into her adulthood. If I could only do that, she need never jump, for the jump from one world to the other is a long and dangerous one—and I did not want this child to fall.
That evening I began to rewrite Shadow of a Bull. I had recently finished it as a short story, and already it had been rejected by a magazine. I decided to use the story I wrote for adults as an outline of a children's book. Not any children's book. It was to be her book. As I converted thirteen pages into fourteen chapters, I was worried about the unlucky publisher who might publish this book intended for an audience of one.
When the book did come out, I began to wait for a letter from the kid on the bus. (pp. 142-43)
I still have not heard from my girl. Maybe one day she will write; maybe she won't. Whether she does or doesn't. I have already written an answer to her: (p. 143)
Shadow was mostly about pride and being locked in. I say pride rather than self-respect, because in Spain the word pride encompasses so much—honor and dignity and self-esteem. You'll find that sort of pride in others, more often in the poor than in the rich, and you'll find it in yourself. Because you are you, you'll respect it wherever you find it in spite of what others may say about it. That sort of pride, sometimes—most of the time—makes life harder than it needs to be. But without pride, life is less.
About being locked in. Sometimes one lives in a prison without a key, without hope of a pardon. Sometimes one never gets out. And sometimes, when one gets out, it is at a cost in pride, and sometimes at a cost in success. It all depends on who built the prison. If you've built the prison yourself, you should never pay in pride. If others have built it. I hope you'll pay them in success. So, you see, Shadow of a Bull is not a book about bullfighting after all.
I have written another book for you, Odyssey of Courage, and that one is all about failure. The kind that deprives one of less than it gives. Not a personal failure. For there is so much that others have confused for you. They have put labels on things, and then they got the labels all mixed up. You'll see many doors labeled SUCCESS, but often, on going through those doors, you will have passed into FAILURE. So I wrote Odyssey not about a man called Cabeza de Vaca, but about how he discovered that one door had the wrong label on it.
I hope to live a long time, because I want to keep writing for you. You see, while waiting for your letter, and even before, I decided that you'll never grow old; but of course you will. No matter. I will still write for you as if you could not get past your thirteenth birthday. And that's an important time. It is a time of finding out about what life will be like. I want to give you a glimpse of the choices you have before you, of the price that will be asked of you. And don't fool yourself; you will be asked to pay.
When you know what life has to sell, for how much, and what it can give away free, you will not live in darkness. I hope that in books you'll find your light, and that by this light you may cross from one shore of love to another, from your childhood into your adulthood. I hope that some of the light will come from my books and that, because of this light, life will lose its power to frighten you. (pp. 145-46)
Maia Wojciechowska, "Shadow of a Kid" (originally a paper delivered in acceptance of the Newbery and Caldecott Awards in 1965), in Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books: 1956–1965, edited by Lee Kingman (copyright © 1965, by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Horn Book, 1965, pp. 140-52.
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